Although bilateral ties between Beijing and Tokyo are on the mend, a new survey has found that a record high 85 percent of Japanese have unfavorable views of China — a stunning contrast with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s talk of creating a “new era” of friendship with Japan’s top Asian rival.
According to the Pew Research Center’s latest Global Attitudes survey, released late Monday, Japan was the most negative toward China among the 32 countries polled.
But it wasn’t alone among its neighbors in the Asia-Pacific region.
“More than half in South Korea (63 percent), Australia (57 percent) and the Philippines (54 percent) share this sentiment,” the survey said. “Opinion of China has also fallen across the region over the course of Pew Research Center’s polling and is now hovering at or near historic lows in each of the countries surveyed.”
Abe has worked to repair ties with Beijing since relations soured in the early 2010s over sovereignty and history issues. In late June, he met Chinese leader Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit in Osaka to lay the groundwork for Xi’s first state visit to Japan, touting relations between the “eternal neighboring countries” as much improved.
But while political ties are “back on a normal track,” per Abe and Xi’s joint statement in Osaka, the Pew survey shows that the Japanese public remains wary of Chinese intentions.
One of the top concerns for Tokyo in its relationship with Beijing is the row over the Japanese-controlled Senkaku Islands, which are also claimed by China, where they are known as the Diaoyu. China routinely sends government-backed ships into the waters surrounding the tiny islets — prompting Japan to send its own vessels — as part of what observers say is a strategy intended to wear down Japan.
Recent years have also seen China’s increasingly capable military punch further into the western Pacific, including through key strategic passageways near Okinawa Prefecture and elsewhere.
The Pew survey’s release comes just ahead of the 70th anniversary of communist China’s foundation on Tuesday, when Beijing was to hold a massive military parade to showcase its weapons and capabilities.
Amid the pomp surrounding the anniversary, the poll found that a median of 41 percent across the 32 countries surveyed have a favorable opinion of China, compared with a median of 37 percent who have an unfavorable opinion.
And while majorities in most countries agree China’s influence on the world stage has grown markedly, this has not necessarily translated into favorable views of the country, according to the survey of 34,904 people conducted May 13 to Aug. 29.
Indeed, negative views of China predominate in both the United States and Canada, where 60 percent and 67 percent, respectively, see the country unfavorably — the highest unfavorable opinion of China recorded for those countries in the Center’s polling history.